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Matthew 5:27–28: Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· οὐ μοιχεύσεις. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

“You heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman in order to covet her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

I'm not sure how this concept of "adultery in one's heart" is usually interpreted. I can see two possible interpretations:

  1. Lusting or coveting after a women is wrong, no matter the context. The verses right after the ones I quoted are the very ones about casting off your eye if it causes you to stumble, which makes the point very clear (However this raises an interesting point with regards to sexual repression.)

  2. Sexual desire is human nature and is only forbidden if a man intends to have inappropriate sexual relations with the woman. Jesus could not possibly tell men to ignore their sexual 'hunger' which is as natural as hunger for food.

I think a major point in finding the correct interpretation is to consider the historical context. Were most of Jesus' disciples married, or was it custom back them for men to marry as soon as they are of a sexually ripe age? Can someone help me find a sound interpretation?

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Have you considered what "In your Heart" means? –  Only he is good. Jul 12 at 19:17

4 Answers 4

Since adultery is specifically used, the context must refer to either the man, the woman or both being married. Lust referring an unlawful desire, it is unlawful for a married man to desire another woman or an unmarried man to desire a married woman. Such looking in order to cherish an unlawful desire is committing adultery in the heart.

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There's actually another permutation of meaning required by your question, that you alluded to but perhaps you didn't notice directly--the specification of "adultery in one's heart" as contrasted from, say "fornication in one's heart".

One could fairly make the argument that if one is not married oneself, and the woman being "actively desired" is not married herself, it is impossible to commit "adultery in one's heart", because one could not commit adultery with her.

Considering this, the historical context, particularly the "covet" notation here, it seems clear that the basic origin of the sinfulness of the activity here is derived from notions of "theft" or "betrayal", not of "sex". Indeed, in regards to your point 2, the notion of God giving us a desire which is necessary for survival (how would any actually make the effort marry without sexual attraction ever having occurred?) and holding that as blameworthy on our part, is not philosophically sound. Much broader discussion on this point can be found on the question of interpretation of "original sin"--the soundest view of this appears to be that individual men and women aren't held responsible for "original sin" per se, they are responsible for the particular sins they individually do. Holding intrinsic attributes of our nature as sinful per se, is erroneous interpretation.

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The verse you have given is in the area called the sermon on the mount. In this whole area, Jesus is turning legalism on its head. He's telling them that not only are the sins that they have committed counted against them, but the sins "of the heart" themselves. This is just one of these sins. I won't get into details because I don't believe the question demands it. While, yes, overall the population got married much younger then, it's not what Jesus is addressing. It comes down to LOVE period. Can we all agree, this was the ministry of Christ? We are to accept the love of God given to us in the form of Jesus Christ, which gives us the forgiveness of our sins. This in turn, should build love in us for God for such a great sacrifice. Then, knowing this same sacrifice of love is for all, we should love the ones our Father loves. Now, just a little in the way of background, to have sexual relations with someone who was not your wife was shameful to her and her family. If you had love for someone, why would you bring them shame? You wouldn't, that's the point.

Even as we look for wives, we search one to love, not to lust after. Lust fades, love prevails. So Jesus was telling us to at all times make the choices that lead to and show love. He is the author, the example, and the finisher of such notion.

What did He say, but to deny yourself and follow me? Paul says, I beat my body into submission. For what sake, the love for and through the Gospel.

God bless.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. Please don't "preach" at readers. Instead, describe your perspective without prescribing it. We're looking for lectures rather than sermons. Please keep in mind that not all of your readers here are Christians. –  Daи Jun 24 at 12:48

I would say 1. And explain it with the following:

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

Jesus is setting standards that would be impossible to meet without the Holy Spirit. But he is promising that those who strongly desire righteousness will be filled with righteousness.

Paul describes the process in Romans 7-8. From which I will quote excerpts:

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:22-25

11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Romans 8:11-14

Those have the spirit of God in them, still war against sin and sometimes sin, but through the Holy Spirit overcome this.

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